John­son hatches plot to knock out Gove

Tory fron­trun­ner’s sup­port­ers could vote tac­ti­cally as they hope for Hunt in fi­nal two

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Gor­don Rayner and Camilla Tominey

SUP­PORT­ERS of Boris John­son will mount an op­er­a­tion to­day to de­rail Michael Gove’s lead­er­ship cam­paign, as Con­ser­va­tive MPS de­cide the fi­nal two can­di­dates to be prime min­is­ter.

Mr Gove has never been for­given for be­tray­ing Mr John­son dur­ing the 2016 lead­er­ship con­test and re­venge was in the air last night as MPS be­gan plot­ting against him.

One sup­porter of Mr John­son said they did not want Mr Gove just to be beaten, but to be “hu­mil­i­ated”.

Mr John­son, who cel­e­brated his 55th birth­day yes­ter­day, won the back­ing of 143 Tory MPS in the third party bal­lot last night – as many as the re­main­ing three can­di­dates com­bined.

Rory Ste­wart is out of the race af­ter man­ag­ing just 27 votes, 10 fewer than he polled in the pre­vi­ous round, while Jeremy Hunt came sec­ond with 54 votes, Mr Gove was third with 51 and Sa­jid Javid was fourth with 38.

Mr Gove picked up 10 extra votes to move within touch­ing dis­tance of Mr Hunt, and back­ers of Mr John­son now want to use Mr Javid as a ve­hi­cle to knock Mr Gove out of the run­ning in the next round this morn­ing, by “lend­ing” him votes to get him through to tonight’s fi­nal MPS’ bal­lot. In­tense pres­sure was also be­ing put on Mr Ste­wart’s former sup­port­ers last night to back Mr Javid or Mr Hunt in or­der to leave Mr Gove iso­lated.

Mr John­son’s sup­port­ers be­lieve Mr Hunt would be the eas­i­est can­di­date for him to beat in a head-to-head con­test, and want to avoid the “psy­chodrama” of Mr John­son and Mr Gove, the two lead­ers of the Vote Leave cam­paign, tear­ing at each other’s throats dur­ing weeks of re­gional hus­tings.

It was re­ported last night that Am­ber Rudd, a key sup­porter of Mr Hunt, was host­ing a din­ner for MPS who had backed Mr Ste­wart, in the hope of adding them to Mr Hunt’s team.

Mr John­son is now 1-10 odds-on favourite to be the next prime min­is­ter, with Mr Hunt sec­ond favourite at 14-1, slightly ahead of Mr Gove at 16-1, and Mr Javid a rank out­sider at 33-1, ac­cord­ing to Coral book­mak­ers.

Many of Mr John­son’s sup­port­ers have a “vis­ceral ha­tred” of the En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary, one source said, af­ter he re­neged on a prom­ise to be Mr John­son’s cam­paign man­ager in 2016 and in­stead stood against him, end­ing the former for­eign sec­re­tary’s chances of beat­ing Theresa May.

The Daily Tele­graph un­der­stands that con­ver­sa­tions have al­ready taken place be­tween Mr Javid’s team and Mr John­son’s team about how the Home Sec­re­tary can be guar­an­teed a place in the fi­nal bal­lot of MPS.

Sources close to the John­son cam­paign ad­mit­ted yes­ter­day that some of his back­ers had al­ready voted tac­ti­cally, but in­sisted it had not been sanc­tioned by Mr John­son or his team. But

WHEN Rory Ste­wart un­ex­pect­edly started trend­ing on Twit­ter last week, a Con­ser­va­tive col­league took the In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary aside to gen­tly break the news to him that he was never go­ing to be prime min­is­ter.

Cit­ing Lord He­sel­tine as a re­spected el­der states­man, the MP told the 46-year-old mav­er­ick politi­cian: “I’m sorry Rory, you’re just go­ing to have to set­tle for be­ing re­mem­bered as the best prime min­is­ter we never had.”

Rewind to Tues­day night’s sec­ond bal­lot and things were look­ing ex­tremely pos­i­tive for the dark­horse can­di­date once dubbed “Florence of Bel­gravia” by those more scep­ti­cal of his tal­ents than the 37 MPS who backed him as leader.

Hav­ing al­most dou­bled his fan base from his 19 sup­port­ers in the first round, the mo­men­tum ap­peared to be firmly behind the old Eto­nian “anti es­tab­lish­ment” fig­ure who once tu­tored Princes Wil­liam and Harry and counts the Prince of Wales as a per­sonal friend.

An ag­gres­sive so­cial me­dia cam­paign, fea­tur­ing hand-held videos of Mr Ste­wart meet­ing mem­bers of the pub­lic, com­bined with more me­dia ap­pear­ances than all his ri­vals com­bined, at­tracted heavy­weight back­ers in­clud­ing David Lid­ing­ton, Theresa May’s de facto deputy, and David Gauke, the Jus­tice Sec­re­tary, as the book­ies be­gan slash­ing the odds on Ste­wart mak­ing it into the fi­nal two. But a week is a long time in pol­i­tics and, as the past 24 hours have proved, an MP’S de­scent from hero to zero can be bru­tal. As Mr Ste­wart’s acolytes dis­sected his sud­den and some­what un­ex­pected demise last night, could tac­ti­cal vot­ing have brought down the man many ac­cuse of spout­ing Lib­eral Demo­crat poli­cies?

While his MP back­ers were yes­ter­day des­per­ately try­ing to spin that his tie­less per­for­mance in Tues­day night’s chaotic lead­er­ship de­bate was su­pe­rior to his ri­vals, by his own ad­mis­sion he found the for­mat “frus­trat­ing” and “was not as rig­or­ous as I might have been”. Hav­ing re­moved his neck­wear due to the heat, he ap­peared fid­gety on his stool and at times un­com­fort­able in front of the cam­era, lead­ing crit­ics to sug­gest that the no­madic Mr Ste­wart, who once hiked across Asia, had reached “peak Rory” … and ca­reered off the edge.

As one un­char­i­ta­ble vet­eran Tory put it: “Rory com­pletely bombed. He was ab­so­lutely aw­ful. What we were left with af­ter that de­bate was a bit of road­kill that was still twitch­ing but in need of be­ing put out of its mis­ery.” Or as a Boris backer said: “What the de­bate showed was Rory’s lim­i­ta­tions. It’s been a fun nov­elty act but I don’t think peo­ple in the party are se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing him as a prime min­is­ter.” Not least af­ter the former Labour sup­porter declared: “We do not need more tax cuts”; anath­ema to the av­er­age Tory MP, let alone Tory voter. Then came sug­ges­tions of a pact with Michael Gove, which seem­ingly proved to be the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin of Mr Ste­wart’s prime min­is­te­rial am­bi­tions. Telling the BBC’S Vic­to­ria Der­byshire pro­gramme that he had be­gun “talks” with the En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary, he spoke of “com­bin­ing forces” in or­der to de­feat Mr John­son, adding: “We would find a com­mon po­si­tion [on Brexit] … we would have to agree to com­pro­mise.”

MPS were left scratch­ing their heads as to how a staunch Re­mainer, who has con­sis­tently in­sisted that the With­drawal Agree­ment can­not be rene­go­ti­ated, could pos­si­bly form a coali­tion with a former Vote Leave front­man who has promised to do just that.

As com­par­isons were al­ready be­ing made with John Red­wood’s mis­judged de­ci­sion to sup­port Ken Clarke against Wil­liam Hague in 1997, Mr Ste­wart’s team did its best to play down sug­ges­tions of a pact and was forced to deny ru­mours that the pair had held a se­cret meet­ing in Mr Gove’s of­fice on Mon­day af­ter they were pho­tographed chat­ting an­i­mat­edly to­gether that af­ter­noon.

One sup­porter told The Daily Tele­graph yes­ter­day lunchtime: “Michael’s peo­ple are push­ing the pact idea be­cause they’re get­ting a bit des­per­ate.”

Point­ing out that the ri­vals are in neigh­bour­ing of­fices, the MP in­sisted: “There have been lots of meet­ings – they meet all the time. This isn’t about stop­ping Boris, it’s about pro­vid­ing Tory mem­bers with a choice.”

But that’s clearly not how Mr John­son’s cam­paign saw it, which brings us to the is­sue of tac­ti­cal vot­ing.

With catty com­ments al­ready be­ing made in the Com­mons tea­room that Mr Ste­wart had “started be­liev­ing his own hype”, con­cern was growing at his in­creas­ingly des­per­ate at­tempts to win more sup­port, in­clud­ing tex­ting former sup­port­ers of Do­minic Raab un­til 3.15am yes­ter­day.

Eye­brows had al­ready been raised af­ter he had tried to pick off MPS who had pre­vi­ously sup­ported Sa­jid Javid.

He told them in a text af­ter Tues­day’s sec­ond bal­lot, when the Home Sec­re­tary polled four fewer votes than Mr Ste­wart on 33: “I know that was not the re­sult you might have been hop­ing for, and I un­der­stand you might want a bit of space to think, but you will be aware that the vote is to­mor­row. So for­give un­seemly haste.”

His mes­sage added: “I’d be proud to have you on my team, and I would love to chat any time that you’re free. Very best wishes, Rory.”

Brag­ging that he had picked up Leave sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing “some pos­i­tive re­sponses” from Mr Raab’s back­ers, he told BBC Radio 4 yes­ter­day: “I am not play­ing num­bers here but I had a cou­ple this morn­ing. The rea­son for that is like me they feel … we have to get this done.” His team was also briefing jour­nal­ists that he had been win­ning sup­port from “the most sur­pris­ing of quar­ters”.

Yet yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, Mr Ste­wart had taken a dif­fer­ent tack by ac­cus­ing Gavin Wil­liamson, Mr John­son’s “chief whip”, of “lend­ing” votes to Mr Javid to push him out of the fi­nal four – a claim ve­he­mently de­nied by Boris back­ers. “It’s not true,” said a sup­porter of Mr John­son. “Some MPS may have lent friends’ votes for strate­gic pur­poses but the Boris cam­paign wants him to have the big­gest man­date pos­si­ble.” Last night’s arith­metic does ap­pear to sup­port Mr Ste­wart’s the­ory, with Mr Javid gain­ing five, while he lost 10.

But there have also been sug­ges­tions that Leavers may have only switched to Mr Ste­wart in the sec­ond round in a bid to force Mr Raab – Mr John­son’s main Brex­i­teer ri­val – out of the race.

What­ever the truth, Mr Ste­wart claims the cam­paign has “given me a new faith in pol­i­tics and a be­lief in our coun­try,” adding: “I didn’t get enough MPS to be­lieve to­day, but they will.”

He may have been re­duced to an “also ran” but the man famed for his love of walk­ing does not ap­pear to have given up his dream of one day march­ing on Down­ing Street.

‘Rory bombed. He was aw­ful. What we were left with af­ter that de­bate was a bit of road­kill that was still twitch­ing but in need of be­ing put it out of its mis­ery’

Rory Ste­wart, right, has ac­cused back­ers of Boris John­son, left, of en­gag­ing in tac­ti­cal vot­ing to push him out of the Tory lead­er­ship con­test, claims that sup­port­ers of the former for­eign sec­re­tary have ve­he­mently de­nied. Be­low, Michael Gove was said to have shown in­ter­est in a Ste­wart pact

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